All Articles Tagged "roles"
Rihanna has 11 #1 singles on the Hot 100, and now the Bajan superstar can officially add actress to her resume. Riri just made her silver screen debut in the sci-fi thriller, Battleship, and while folks were hoping the #RihannaNavy would make this movie #1 at the box office, it was pretty much an expensive flop. But she’s not the first singer to step outside her comfort zone to act and not have the best results. And at the same time, there have been many singer-turned-actors who’ve had major success on-screen. They’ve solidified the obvious: in this economy, two jobs are better than one. Let’s take a look at some other musicians who decided two lanes were better than staying in one.
ABC announced that it would renew Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal after initially ordering only seven episodes of the series. Last week, the series’ season finale finished number one in its slot for the 6th consecutive week among women ages 18-49, proving that the project, written by and starring a Black woman, has found an audience.
Perhaps the success of Scandal will instill more confidence among network executives in projects featuring atypical portrayals of African-American women. The ABC series was the first network TV drama with a Black female lead in 38 years. Cable television has a kinder history thanks to short-lived series like Hawthorne and No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.
Scandal stands in contrast to its predecessor. The 1974 series Get Christie Love! was a Blaxploitation crime series best known for the catchphrase “You’re under arrest, sugar.” However, ethnicity is not the focus of Scandal’s lead character Olivia Pope’s story. In fact, the show never mentions it.
2012 was shaping up to be a year of more of the same televised images of Black women. The most hotly debated topics surrounding the issue dealt with the well-worn storylines of Black women being used to reinforce stereotypes or ignored altogether.
HBO premiered a series with the all encompassing title Girls as a show poised to be the voice of a generation. Critics were taken aback when the show, set in Brooklyn, New York, did not feature any non-white characters. Girls’ creator Lena Dunham responded thoughtfully to the criticism, telling NPR:
I am a half-Jew, half-WASP, and I wrote two Jews and two WASPs. Something I wanted to avoid was tokenism in casting. If I had one of the four girls, if, for example, she was African-American, I feel like — not that the experience of an African-American girl and a white girl are drastically different, but there has to be specificity to that experience [that] I wasn’t able to speak to.
Had Black women become so desperate for representation on television that they would demand a woman who knows nothing about the Black experience to represent it?
It is not surprising considering the images available at the time. Vh1 ignored Shaunie O’Neal’s repeated expression of disappointment in the direction the network had taken her project Basketball Wives. They seemed resolute in upping the ante, determined to see how low they could go with negative images of Black women. It wasn’t until a recent onslaught of criticism, complete with a Star Jones-endorsed petition calling for a boycott of the show and advertisers like Summer’s Eve pulling their endorsement, that the network and production company agreed to a “no excessive physical confrontations” policy on the series moving forward.
Despite Basketball Wives nearing ridiculous levels of juvenile, stereotypical behavior, the show probably would not have received as much backlash if Black women had a more diverse catalog of images presented on television. There is no longer a shortage of Black characters. The deficiency lies in quality and diversity. If Black women aren’t playing into aggressive stereotypes on reality television, they’re regulated to the best friend or sidekick role on ensemble sitcoms.
Scandal offers a breath of fresh air. The show’s success demonstrates that a Black woman can be accepted playing a universal role, and a show with a Black lead doesn’t have to be about being Black. Hopefully, this time the entertainment industry’s strategy of recycling successful projects will work in favor of the positive portrayal of Black women. Maybe in coming seasons we will see shows that satisfy our craving for junk television alongside ones that offer sophisticated, graceful roles. That’s all Black women have ever asked for in the first place.
Chris Rock bought up a very interesting point this past weekend at the 84th Annual Academy Awards. Why aren’t actors of color given the same range that many white actors get in terms of animation work? We can ask the same question about movies in general, but looking at just animation alone, white voice actors tends to play a vast array of characters no matter what the race is (The Princess and the Frog anyone?).
Here is what Rock said before he presented the award for Best Animated Movie:
“I love animation because in the world of animation, you can be anything you wanna be. If you’re a fat woman, you can play a skinny princess. If you’re a short, wimpy guy, you can play a tall gladiator. If you’re a white man, you can play an Arabian prince. And if you’re a black man, you can play a donkey or a zebra. You can’t play white? My God!”
Rock’s reference was to him voicing a zebra in the animated movie, Madagascar and Eddie Murphy’s role as Donkey in the Shrek series of course.
Thinking back to all the animated movies I watched as a kid after hearing what he said, I decided to do some research and started looking up the voice actors from some of my favorites. For example, the two lead actors who provided their voice talents to one of my most beloved animated films as a kid, Aladdin, were a white man and a white woman. Aladdin and Jasmine are supposed to be of Middle Eastern background, so why couldn’t the studio get Middle Eastern actors to voice these characters? Ironically, the woman who sings as Princess Jasmine’s is a woman of color, Lea Salonga-Chien. And even though Jason Weaver (from Smart Guy) was given the chance to sing as young Simba in The Lion King, Jonathan Taylor Thomas (remember him from Home Improvement?) was the voice for the cub a majority of the time (and Matthew Broderick was the adult Simba). Dang…who do you have to kill to get into A Bug’s Life or in the Toy Story franchise!?
I never fully realized how many characters of color were voiced by white actors. For instance, the few black voice over actors (and there really are few) either play the token black character in the film, a sidekick animal (Eddie was also the small dragon Mushu in Mulan) or some other inanimate object. The Princess and the Frog and The Lion King were one of the few times I knew that black actors had the a variety of roles (even if one was a monkey and the James Earl Jones’s Mufasa was killed off early). White voice over actors are given a range of characters to voice of all different backgrounds. With that in mind, you would think that would be an easy lane for someone of color to pick up a j-o-b, but it almost seems like black voice over actors and voice over actors of all backgrounds and color may not actually be needed…
Do you feel what Chris Rock was saying?
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When I was younger, love seemed so simple. That was clearly before I ever fell in love or even experienced a serious relationship. After a while, I realized that finding that special someone is only the beginning of relationship. A successful relationship requires more components than simply saying I love you. If love was genuinely enough, then most people would be happily married living out a fairy-tale dream; but the reality is, love is the fundamental glue that keeps a relationship together but it can be broken and tattered by irresponsible decisions, infidelity or lack of communication.
So the mere thought that love is enough to keep a relationship together is somewhat true but involves more than just those small but powerful three words. There are certain key elements that each relationship should have to make it work.
Pop quiz. Name me five widely-released movies that starred a black woman in the past year. I’m not talking about as the sassy friend or some small featured part. I’m talking about the lead in the movie. Could you do it? If you could, it probably took you a good minute, right? The current television landscape also has few Black female characters and most of these talented black actresses must shine in smaller, secondary roles especially on the big four networks ABC, CW, CBS, and NBC. There are notable exceptions like ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, and the upcoming ABC show Scandal (I love Shonda Rhimes) that show black female characters we love. I also love Maya Rudolph as Ava on Up All Night. And smaller recent movies like Pariah by Dee Rees (premiering in December) and 2008′s Medicine for Melancholy by Barry Jenkins still offer black actresses headlining roles. Say what you want to say about Tyler Perry, but the man offers black actresses top billing as well. However, I find it disturbing that there are not a greater number of juicy, complex roles available for black women anymore.
I grew up in the 90s when black television and movies were at a high point in both quality and quantity. Shows like A Different World, The Cosby Show, Girlfriends, Living Single and Soul Food (well early 2000s too) all had meaty, funny, and touching roles for black women. Movies like Love Jones, Love and Basketball, Menace to Society, Girl 6, Higher Learning, Eve’s Bayou, What’s Love Got to Do With It and Boomerang gave Black actresses complex characters to show off their acting chops. As a little girl, these shows and films inspired me to want to act, then eventually to write and direct for TV and film. These were stories I could relate to and that reflected my life as a black woman in this country. These films and shows gave us talented and beautiful black actresses like Halle Berry, Angela Bassett, Nia Long, Sanaa Lathan, Jurnee Smollett, Lynn Whitfield, Phylicia Rashad, and Tracee Ellis Ross; women I still look up to as a black artist. However, the landscape has changed. The black sitcom has all but disappeared and of those that exist how many are good? I know what my answer is, but I’ll leave you to ponder that one. Where does a little Black girl who dreams of a life in the arts look to inspire her these days? Where can she go to see quality television and film that feature faces that look like hers? If she flips on television she doesn’t see much that resembles her unless you count the shouting and fighting women of reality television. This makes me very sad.
Playing the “girlfriend or wife” of a black male star like Idris Elba and Will Smith in television and movies is not exactly a meaty role, but it used to be a role reserved for black women. Now, these roles are often cast with non-black women. Shadow and Act’s blog explores this trend in a great article that focuses on interracial coupling on television. While I am not one to hate on interracial anything, it troubles me that this trend is taking roles away from black actresses and that it’s so rare to see two black people coupled up on the small or big screens anymore.
What can you do to help the situation? Make an effort to find out about the smaller independent films that feature black women in substantial roles and support them with your presence and your dollars. For a great blog to keep you up on the indie scene, visit Shadow and Act. Also check out AFFRM, better known as the African American Film Releasing Movement. This organization provides distribution and promotion for quality black films. As for television, support quality online artists like the Awkward Black Girl. Hopefully once the networks see that there is an audience for shows like this, they will offer to put them on the airwaves, but only time will tell.
Do you miss the television and film of the 90s?
Grace Edwards is a writer living in New York city. Check out her blog or follow her on Twitter @gracyact.
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